Island food bank to move its farm to town this spring

Jenn Coe, left, and Yvonne Pitrof of the food bank both say they are excited to move the food bank garden to the open field behind Vashon Plaza. - Natalie Martin/Staff Photo
Jenn Coe, left, and Yvonne Pitrof of the food bank both say they are excited to move the food bank garden to the open field behind Vashon Plaza.
— image credit: Natalie Martin/Staff Photo

After three years of growing food on a plot of land in the southern reaches of Vashon, the food bank will soon move its farm to town.

This move will enable more volunteers to help with the labor of growing large amounts of food and has fulfilled a longtime dream of the food bank staff, said Yvonne Pitrof, the food bank’s executive director.

This change, finalized last week, happened because of two large pieces of support, Pitrof said. Norm Mathews, the owner of Vashon Thriftway, approached her last fall to see if the food bank would like to use the 4.5-acre property his company owns behind the IGA shopping center at the edge of town.

While Mathews has been a supporter of the food bank over the years, Pitrof said this offer was exceptional.

“It was certainly a welcome surprise,” she said. “It was really wonderful to have that invitation.”

Additionally, The Seattle Foundation recently awarded the food bank a $30,00 grant, an award intended to increase people’s access to healthy food.

With those funds in hand, Pitrof, Jenn Coe — the food bank farm and garden manager — and volunteers will be able to begin working the land Mathews offered.

“This grant supports that move to the new farm, putting in the infrastructure, getting it going and getting a solid first year there,” Pitrof said.

The agreement now in place allows the food bank to use the land without paying rent, but the food bank will pay for water and cover its own farm expenses, Pitrof said.

The tasks ahead include testing and amending the soil, tilling the 2-acre area they intend to use and building a fence.

With more volunteers, the food bank will be able to produce more food, Coe said, and as much as she appreciated the land on Wax Orchard Road lent by Amy Greenburg and Chris Robinson, the location made it hard for people to get to.

“I love the idea of being someplace in town that is really visible that people can walk to,” Coe said.  “There is never a lack of things to do, and the more people we have, the more food we can grow. We’ve not come close to hitting a limit.”

Reached last week, Mathews gave a simple answer for why he offered the land.

“Basically, I knew of a need and that’s why,” he said.

His company, Mathews Co. LLC, purchased the land — a large, grassy field southwest of town — in 2012 for $475,000, according to the King County Assessor’s Office.

He added that the food bank’s lease at the land is for five years and could be easily renewed after that or cancelled at any time by either party with 90 days notice.

Mathews noted his company has no imminent plans for the acreage, and purchased it for possible future use. Half of it is zoned commercial, and half is zoned for multi-family housing.

“It was just a good buy, and we thought there might be a future need,” he said.

Looking ahead, Pitrof and Coe say there is a considerable amount of work to do.

“It’s been fast and furious, and now we have to get a timeline together,” Pitrof said. “I am sure there will be little hurdles as we go, but it is an exciting move for us.”

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